Divine Mercy Minutes with Jesus

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A worker helps set up tents for the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy's annual Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend celebration, which begins Saturday, April 18.

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By Dan Valenti (Apr 9, 2009)
The early spring weather turns New Englanders flinty, meaning that, after the long winter, we learn to "grind it out" in early-to-mid-April. Sapping snowflakes moved horizontally by driving wind make most outdoor tasks a test of determination and persistence, incidentally two of the most prized qualities in spiritual life.

This comes to mind via a walk around Eden Hill I took this morning (April 8). My first stop was to the receptionist's office at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy to deliver a package to Br. Leonard Kunda, MIC.

Heavy Lifting
On my way to the Shrine I encountered the bull crews erecting tents for Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend, including the enormous gift-shop tent. It wasn't an easy day to be out in the elements, but these guys pressed on with the heavy lifting and strenuous hauling. Crews from the electrical contractor fiddled with wires and junction boxes, the translucent handles of their screwdrivers catching the clouded light in a way that made them glow.

The full-time maintenance workers on Eden Hill went about their streaming tasks. "Big Joe" Hughes, Dennis Mintz, Jim Dolson, Doug McClay, and the rest of the fix-it fellas know how to handle everything and take on anything. They can make any machine run, can coax a rusty gear to mesh with a cranky tooth, and — if they had to — could jump start a Tonka Toy and have it ready to compete in NASCAR. They do carpentry, plumbing, engine work, masonry. You get the picture.

I made a connection between this bull work and the work each of us has every day of our lives, and that is to grow in goodness. Not much of a connection, it appears at first. But wait: Spiritual maturity involves common sense, resolve, willpower, strength, and the ability to learn from failure. The contractors and maintenance staff employs these tools everyday.

The Self-Replication of Mercy
Being a spiritual grownup also includes a huge helping of God's mercy, both receiving it and sharing it with others. Life will throw "the elements" at us in the form of discordance, disappointment, failure, sadness, anger, and many other challenges. We become like the guys working on Eden Hill: We face a task, and despite the hardships, we plow ahead.

Mercy is a self-replicating grace. The more you give it away, the more of it you possess. In one of the tents, I unobtrusively watched an electrician guide an apprentice in wiring an "Exit" sign. They were both learning. The rookie learned how to wire an exit sign. The master shared his talent and learned something about human interaction.

The practice of mercy in action — for example, finding it in your heart to apologize when you've hurt someone — makes you stronger. At first it may seem difficult, but the more you extend goodness to others, the easier it becomes and the more you want to do it. It seems counterintuitive to follow Jesus' advice of turning the other cheek or loving your enemies, but "seems" and "is" are two different matters in spiritual life.

When I got to the Shrine office, I ran into Br. Leonard and handed him the package. It contained a lumbar pillow with a beautifully stitched cover that included the words: "A fisherman lives here with the catch of his life." When I first saw it, the pillow brought Br. Leonard to mind, given his deep love of fishing. The "catch of his life" part reminded me of his vocation, only that it was he who "got caught" by God. He had to have that pillow, and I made it my gift to him.

The Stuff of Legend
You may have met Br. Leonard recently in Felix Carroll's superb profile on Br. Fred Wells, MIC, of "Br. Fred's Bread" fame. Brother Leonard was the one Br. Fred inadvertently left stranded at Stockbridge Bowl, the gem of a pond that dots Stockbridge like a blue amethyst. Over the years, the story has become the stuff of legend on the Hill.

Also in the small office and reception area were pilgrimage director Carol Scott, gift shop manager and director of the Marian Apostolates Br. Ron McBride, MIC, and, behind the window at her desk, receptionist Wendy Flynn. Work wrapped each in its clasp, but the bindings weren't strong to preclude a brief visit. Brother Leonard opened the envelope. He looked like he had won the lottery.

Meet and Greet
Let me briefly introduce you to the rest of these folks. Carol's a doer. She has massive responsibilities for Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend and often must make on-the-spot executive decisions without the luxury of input. Her philosophy is, "I'll get it done now and take my beating later." It's a a working code that spills over in pragmatism.

A busy place like Eden Hill needs people like Carol. She is the right arm of Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, which came in handy last year when Fr. Anthony fell out of a tree stand while deer hunting in Pennsylvania and broke that arm. She is to Fr. Anthony what Radar was to Col. Potter on "M.A.S.H."

Brother Ron has a slow Texas drawl that seems like it just climbed off a magnolia tree. He likes to needle me when I come around, since it's usually with a notebook and pen at the ready. I'm either on a story or hunting for a story. My standard comeback to Br. Ron is, "Don't worry. We're off the record." Brother Ron also serves as acolyte at many of the daily liturgical events on Eden Hill. He came to his vocation relatively late in life, and as such, brings savvy to the Hill. When mercy tempers worldliness, the result is extraordinarily effective and compelling.

Wendy is the friendly voice you get on the other end of the phone when you call the Shrine offices at 413-298-1117. Wendy is like a human intersection, since her job as receptionist and "voice of the Shrine" brings her into all kinds of situations — a person calling for the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline, a pilgrim who's not feeling well, someone who need directions to Stockbridge, a request to speak with one of the Marians, a kid whose folks are shopping in the gift shop needs his shoelace tied.

Whatever the need might be, chances are Wendy is there. She fields calls and requests, then dishes off to the correct party. If this were the NBA, she'd lead the league in assists.

Find a Way
Heading out the office door, I cut across the Hill past the huge evergreens, over the crest, and down the other side on my way to the Marian Helpers Center to deliver just-completed color page-proofs for Marian Helper magazine to Dave Came, executive editor. I had earlier proofed my cover story for the Summer 2009 issue on Marian Renovator Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz. Going through the story again, I liked it. I felt I had "nailed it."

When Dave gave me the assignment, I started my self-tutorial into the remarkable life of Blessed George. I won't tip my hand. I'd like you to read the story when it "hits the stands." Suffice it to say that one man can make a prodigious (and literal) difference in the world.

Writing for print is different than writing for the web. On a physical, printed page, a writer fills what's called a "news hole." In other words, for my story on Blessed George, I had a strict word limit. It became a fascinating literary problem: How could I do justice to the life of a spiritual Renaissance man in just 1,400 words?

Easy. You make like the maintenance guys. You find a way.

Fluff Pines and Failed Federations
On my way to the center, I passed ducks, geese, squirrels, chipmunks, sparrows, and — a distance away in one of the fields — a red fox. Western pines, what we used to call "Fluff Pines," swayed in the wind, which had calmed. Surrounding each trunk, perfect circles of fallen needles carpeted the ground orange. Against the sprouting green grass, the ground looked like the flag of a failed federation. Orange isn't a color you see in flags.

Spiked tulip stems, crocuses, and day lilies bid flowerbeds to come to life. Mounds of raked winter deadwood dotted the grounds: leaves, pine needles, dead plants, twigs, and a Chex-Mix® assortment of nature's debris. It you crossed an anthill with a beaver dam, you'd gets piles that looked like this.

More tents stood in various stages of completion. Some hugged the ground, looking like monstrous vinyl pancakes. Eden Hill's storage area behind the maintenance garage wore telltale signs of activity.

Tractor and truck prints muddied the asphalt with parallel lines. The tractor-tire geometry looked like a running set of brown sergeant stripes. Empty pine pallets waited in stacks like mendicants looking for a donation. They seemed to miss their loads, which, if you think about it, were the purpose of their existence. The cinder blocks and bench seats that normally populate this area had been removed, ready to build things like candle racks for the Adoration Tent and to provide seating for the thousands of pilgrims in front of the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine on Divine Mercy Sunday.

A Whole Lotta Love
On the now-cleared asphalt, I spotted faded white paint marking the faint lines of an old tennis court. I've always known there's lots of love on Eden Hill, but love-40. That I didn't know.

I stopped briefly and felt the wind rustling around me. A few snowflakes did the rumba like tipsy revelers before hitting the ground and melting. I closed my eyes. I listened. Out of the quiet, a thought popped into my head: "I wouldn't want to be anyplace on earth but here right now."

Wish you were here.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" at thedivinemercy.org.

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Brother Leonard Konopka MIC - Jun 17, 2009

The Brother you refer to as Brother Leonard-did you mean Konopka as a last name. Brother Fred Wells and Brother Leonard Konopka were there in 1959 when I was in Noviatiate w/ Father Fidelis and Father Kobza.

Carol-Mercy Sunday Coordinator - Apr 15, 2009

We hope everyone reading this story will be able to join us here on Eden Hill this year. I wouldn't want to be any place else either!

Gene - Apr 9, 2009

You have a way with words. I felt as though I were there. Thanks!